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First page of the “Sick Reports” of the U. S. frigate “United States.” Barton was first stationed on this vessel when he entered.
were acquired after his death by the Boston of Medical Examiners at Philadelphia. He Public Library, where they are known as distinguished himself by his professional the Barton Collection.
skill and his scholarly attainments, and From the foregoing it will be seen that the particularly by his bold and fearless adsubject of this sketch came of a family of vocacy of necessary reforms in the medical students, and as a contemporaneous writer department of the Navy and the improvehas stated: “His forebears were eminently ment of the status of the naval surgeon. qualified to infuse into his mind the rudi- During his periods of shore duty he was not ments of knowledge and the principles of content to pass his time unemployed, but virtue.”
devoted himself with marked professional Dr. William P. C. Barton received his ardor to the publication of various works, classical education at Princeton, graduating some growing out of his naval experience, with distinction in 1805. Each member of like that on “Marine Hospitals” mentioned his class assumed the name of some cele- above, and one entitled "Hints for Naval brated character, and Barton chose that of Officers Cruising in the West Indies,” Count Paul Crillon, whose initials he re- written in 1830, and others mainly on tained throughout life. He began a study of botany. In 1815 he was chosen professor medicine under the direction of his uncle, of botany in the University of Pennsylvania Dr. Benjamin Smith Barton, and received succeeding his uncle, and in later years he his degree in 1808. His inaugural thesis was was connected with Jefferson Medical Colentitled, “A Dissertation on the Chymical lege in a similar capacity. He was also a Properties and Exhilarating Effects of Ni- fellow of the College of Physicians, a memtrous Oxide Gas and its Application to ber of the American Philosophical Society, Pneumatick Medicine.” This was president of the Linnæan Society, an honorsidered worthy of publication and for ary member and surgeon of the First many years was accepted as a standard City Troop, and upon the creation of the treatise on the subject. Soon after gradua- Bureau of Medicine and Surgery in the tion he made a translation from the Latin Navy Department, Dr. Barton was tenof Jacobus Gregory's “Dissertation on the dered and accepted the appointment of Influence of a Change of Climate in Curing chief of this bureau. He was, therefore, Diseases.”
the first chief of bureau, though not the After practicing medicine in Philadelphia first surgeon general of the Navy. This for about a year during which time he title was not created until 1869, and was became one of the surgeons to the Pennsyl- first held by William Maxwell Wood. In vania Hospital, he received an appointment fact Barton was much opposed to the as surgeon in the Navy, upon the recom- adoption of the title surgeon general; and mendation of Dr. Benjamin Rush and Dr. in 1838, when legislation designed to create Philip Syng Physick. He was for several it was pending before Congress, he adyears on active duty on the frigate “United dressed a pamphlet to the members of the States”; on the “Essex”; at the Navy Yard, committees on naval affairs of the Senate Philadelphia; as surgeon to the Marines at and the House of Representatives, entitled Philadelphia; at the Naval Hospital, Phila- "A Polemical Remonstrance against the delphia; on the “Brandywine”; at the Naval Project of Creating the New Office of Hospital, Norfolk; at the Naval Asylum, Surgeon General in the Navy of the United Philadelphia; as chief of Bureau of Medi- States.” This publication reveals that he cine and Surgery; at the Naval Hospital, was also a corresponding member of the Pensacola, and as president of the Board Imperial and Royal Academy of Agricul
ture of Florence; a member of the Linnaan Society of Stockholm and a lecturer on materia medica, botany, toxicology and naval therapeutics in the Therapeutic Institute of Philadelphia.
While chief of bureau he introduced many reforms, corrected numerous abuses and received for his services the warm recommendation and approval of the then Secretary of the Navy, the Hon. Abel P. Upshur. His attempts to improve conditions in the Medical Department, however, met with opposition and rendered him very unpopular with those whose interests or hopes were endangered by his efforts. He was not deterred, however, and in spite of resistance accomplished much in the direction of improvement of conditions in the Navy, both medical and nonmedical in character. On March 20, 1844, after holding this office for eighteen months, he addressed a letter of resignation to the President praying for approval of his "earnest wish... to retire from the scene of unavailing efforts.” He retained his naval commission, however, doing duty at Pensacola Hospital, but chiefly on the Medical Examining Board at Philadelphia, and at the time of his death in 1856, he had been for many years the senior surgeon in the Navy.
In September, 1814, Dr. Barton married Esther, daughter of Jonathan Dickinson Sergeant, Esq. (a member of the Philadelphia bar), and a granddaughter of Dr. David Rittenhouse.
Of his character, appearance, and personal attributes, I have been fortunate in securing a reflection from several sources. The portrait which appears on the second page of this article was taken from what
appears to be an enlarged photograph now hanging in the office of the Surgeon General of the Navy. This came from the Naval Medical School some years ago, but I have not been able to determine anything of its prior history. It is said by one of his descendants
to whom the reproduction was shown to be a good likeness and represents his peculiar manner of dress, which even for the times was considered somewhat elaborate and eccentric. It is supposed to represent him as he looked about the time he was appointed chief of bureau. In a speech delivered in the House of Representatives, early in 1844, by the Hon. Alexander H. H. Stuart of Virginia, Barton was referred to, in connection with an investigation into the expenditures of the newly created Bureau of Medicine and Surgery, in terms which give us an idea of the impression made upon a contemporary by his manner and style of composition. Mr. Stuart stated:
“I, like others, have been somewhat prejudiced by the artificial and involved style of his report submitted to the House; a prejudice by no means diminished by his manner and style of dress, equally unnatural and eccentric. But when I knew him better and heard and saw the improvements which he had introduced into the Bureau, my prejudice vanished and I became satisfied he was a most capable and faithful officer.”
The same speaker refers later to his "bold and manly spirit of independence, which induces him to shrink from no responsibility.”
In the findings of his court-martial in 1818, a reference was made by the court to “the vehemence of his manner (which) imparted impressions his language and intentions would not warrant.'
One of the most valuable comments on his manner and personal qualities appears in an address delivered before the Alumni Association of the Jefferson Medical College, on March 11, 1871, by Dr. Samuel D. Gross, professor of surgery in the college and president of the association. He refers to Dr. Barton in these terms:
“The instruction in materia medica, during the two Winters of my connection in the open field in search of specimens. In these excursions he was always in his happiest mood, skipping merrily, like a humming-bird, from flower to flower. He experienced as great delight in the discovery of a new plant as Audubon did at the sight of an undescribed bird, or John Hunter in the dissection of a strange animal. He was in fact a botanical enthusiast."
with the College, was delivered by Dr. William P. C. Barton, brother of Dr. John Rhea Barton, the eminent surgeon, and a nephew of Dr. Benjamin Smith Barton, formerly a professor in the University of Pennsylvania. He was, in all respects, a remarkable man: highly educated, learned in his profession, a graceful lecturer, an able writer and one of the most accomplished botanists in America. He abounded in flashes of wit; and a vein of irony and sarcasm was perceptible in almost everything he did and said. He had a passionate love of music and played with consummate ability upon the flute and violin. Many of his acts were marked by the eccentricities of genius. His style of lecturing was conversational, plain, simple and didactic, without any attempt at oratory, and his success as a teacher was all that could have been desired. In his
he was a model of neatness and elegance. He seldom wore the same coat, vest, or cravat on two successive days. In his criticisms of contemporaneous writers he was often severe and even bitter, especially when he had occasion to speak of a certain writer on materia medica, with whom he had long been on terms of open hostility. He would then, often with a peculiarly disdainful curl of the upper lip, fly off into the keenest satire and invective, much to the amusement of his young auditors, all of whom, with few exceptions, were warmly attached to him. It was his invariable practice, too much neglected in most of our schools, every morning to ask the class some questions respecting the lecture of the previous day.”
In attempting to find Dr. Barton's grave in Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, I was fortunate in getting in touch with one of his lineal descendants. This gentleman I met later and obtained from him much additional information, of a character which could not have been secured elsewhere.
Through his kindness I have been able to read a biographical sketch of Dr. Barton which was compiled in 1879 by one of Dr. Barton's daughters. In this she refers to her father as possessing “many personal attractions and accomplishments. He retained, even to advanced years, a great love for music and great conversational powers. His character was a happy combination of qualities which attracted all and repelled none. Of great courage without any bravado, of affability without servility, of true warmhearted benevolence, his qualities of heart and of mind were well calculated to secure lasting friends among the good and true.”
I also learned from him that Barton had assembled in his lifetime a very remarkable collection of musical instruments, which he recalls seeing as a child in the home on Chestnut Street. It was here that Barton lived and had his office. The house is still standing, but in reconstruction it has been joined to another, which has been built over part of the plot, formerly the garden of the Barton home.
The facts recorded regarding Dr. Barton's career in the service were found to be few and meagre, particularly with reference to his service at sea, and the chief and most
“During my first Summer in Philadelphia I was a member of Dr. Barton's botanical class, and usually attended him in his botanical excursions along the banks of the Schuylkill, visiting Bartram's Conservatories or rambling about
valuable sources of information regarding writing were found in the Library of the him were found in “Officers' Letters,” scat- Naval Medical School, where they had been tered throughout many volumes, covering placed in 1905 by former Surgeon General the years 1809 to 1848, which are filed in Rixey, who had discovered them in a secondthe Navy Department Library. These, to- hand bookstore in New York. gether with allusions made in his writings In the early days of the Navy, although to various incidents of his life and work, the regulations required the commander have constituted the main sources from of a vessel to keep an official log, the govwhich the facts of this sketch have been ernment did not furnish the log book. It drawn.
happened therefore that a book purchased The records of the Navy Department by an officer for this purpose, was often show that Dr. Barton was appointed a sur- regarded as personal property, and taken geon on April 10, 1809, to take rank from away by him when detached from the ship. June 28. His letter of appointment also con- It is not improbable that a similar custom tained orders to the frigate “United States.' existed with respect to medical records. In a letter which was written from the This condition of affairs may account for Pennsylvania Hospital, and addressed to the absence of medical records covering this the Hon. Charles M. Goldsborough, period and also for the fortuitous discovery Esq., secretary of the Navy, he accepted at this late day of the “Sick Reports” his appointment and requested a delay of
of the “United States.” These reports six weeks before joining the “United ran from June 7, 1809, to November 10, States,” explaining that the delay was 1810, and were entered in Barton's handnecessary to enable him to complete his writing in two small note books. A reproterm of service at the hospital, which ran to duction of the first two pages, showing the July first. It is apparent from this letter that opening entries, appears in the text of this he felt a deep sense of obligation to fulfil article. As one scans the pages of these what he considered an implied contract with small books it is surprising to note how the hospital authorities to remain until his sparse is the information to be obtained period of service was completed, but his re- regarding the movement of disease or quest was denied, for the “Sick Reports” of important daily events. Only one entry is the “United States,” show that he was al- made giving the location of the ship, that ready aboard that vessel on June 7, 1809. occurring on the second page, where it is On June 10, 1809, Stephen Decatur, Jr., had noted as “Crany Island, Elizabeth River, joined the “United States” and hoisted his Vir.” Unfortunately, no record of the other broad pennant as commodore for the first ports or places visited is found. The usual time, and then began the friendship with day's record shows the name of the disease, Decatur which lasted throughout life. Very complaint or injury, rarely in a scientific little has been found respecting Barton's nomenclature, which is set opposite the service on this vessel, which apparently name of the patient, and an entry is made continued only until about November 10, of admissions and discharges for the day. 1810, for soon after that date he is found The progress of a patient is sometimes on the “Essex.”
stated in a word or two, such as “imPractically no medical records relating to proving,” “better," or "worse,” too often the ships of this period are to be found in the the latter, and deaths are not infrequent. Navy Department, but, by a mere chance, The prevalence of “typhus fever” is notetwo thin volumes of the “Sick Reports” of worthy and by this, of course, is meant the the “United States,” in Barton's own hand- typhoid fever of later days, although the